No More Labor Woes

THERE HAVE BEEN A NUMBER of high-profile labor disputes and subsequent strikes by union employees in the past few years. Additionally, organized labor has taken a more confrontational and aggressive approach with the solid waste industry. Now, more than ever, the lines of communication and negotiation need to be open with union leaders to prevent labor disputes and strikes.

At WasteExpo 2005 in Las Vegas, an entire educational session is dedicated to the importance of labor relations and preventing and responding to labor disputes. The speakers for this session are: Darrell Chambliss, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Waste Connections Inc., Folsom, Calif., and Kenneth Baylor, vice president of employee and labor relations for Republic Services Inc., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Unfortunately, there always will be conflicts between employees and management — it is a reality of doing business. Are you prepared for a “sick-out?” What will you do if your employees walk out on strike? What issues are you willing to compromise on, and which issues are deal-breakers? The reactions of other industries lend valuable examples to the importance of being prepared.

If you were one of the many travelers on US Airways last holiday season, you know first-hand the frustration that customers felt toward the staged sick-out by baggage handlers as people went days without their luggage and holiday gifts for family members.

Another good example is the National Hockey League (NHL). Management and the players both drew their proverbial “lines in the sand” about issues that were deal breakers. Neither side was ready to compromise, and there was no contingency plan, so the league was forced to cancel its season.

There have been a number of areas in North America that have contended with labor issues — Chicago, Toronto, Reno, Nev., and Hamilton County, N.J., to name a few. Each has wrestled with a work stoppage on a universally essential service — solid waste collection and disposal.

To preview the WasteExpo session, one area that will be covered is how important it is to communicate with employees and how to communicate with them with an emphasis on honesty and timeliness. While these things may seem obvious, the failure to keep employees updated or to discuss work with them in a constructive manner can go a long way toward planting the seeds of mistrust. In addition, employees need to feel that they have a voice and will be heard by management about issues affecting their workplace, such as safety, equipment, overall workplace conditions, and salaries and benefits. It is imperative that both sides keep a constant line of communication open not only to air their differences and grievances, but also to share positive information about jobs well done or overall job satisfaction.

Another area that will be covered in the WasteExpo session is how to handle situations when organized labor representatives try to unionize employees. Does your company have a policy on unionizing? If so, be sure to remind your employees of that policy. Of course, it would behoove you to have a labor attorney who can help you understand your rights and guide you through the unionizing of employees. Finally, are you ready to face the reality of a work stoppage?

The session also will address how to plan for getting your work done when employees are on the picket lines, and keeping customers informed and happy with the quality and level of service that they have become accustomed to. If pickups will be delayed or service will be altered, it is imperative to get this information out.

Additionally, be ready for any potential backlash from striking employees if you bring in replacement workers. In the case of the Hamilton Township, N.J., work stoppage in early 2005, the mayor hopped on the back of one of the trucks and helped to collect solid waste.

If you are facing issues with your employees or just want to be ready for a day that you hope will never come, be sure to attend “Preventing and Responding to Labor Disputes” at WasteExpo at 9 a.m. on Monday, May 2, at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Mark Glazer is EIA's manager of education. Contact the author by e-mailing: [email protected].